Doug Anthony Allstars: tick fucking tock

I first heard the Doug Anthony Allstars in my rented flat in Edinburgh during the 1988 Fringe Festival. I’d gone to Scotland to cover the Festival prior to taking up a new job and was listening to a program about the Fringe on BBC Radio Scotland. Midway through the show, the host introduced a song from a hot young Australian trio who were wowing them at the Gilded Ballroom in the Cowgate under the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. The Dougs launched into their cult classic Krishna, with its memorable chorus, ‘I’ve got Krishna riding shotgun on the stagecoach of my life’ and immediately blew me away.

So it was kinda fitting that the first song they perform on the Chatswood leg of their current reunion tour is that same homage to sects and drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s been twenty odd years since they last performed live, guitarist Richard Fidler’s place is being filled by old pal Paul ‘Flacco’ Livingstone and Tim Ferguson is confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, but tonight’s show is a triumph.

While understandably lacking the same frenetic pace and movement that their younger selves exemplified, the key elements are still present and correct. Aurally, the music, the harmonies, the witty lyrics and above all, Paul McDermott’s voice—with its range, power and sometimes choirboy purity. And visually McDermott’s body language is riveting as he bumps, grinds and cocks his body to accentuate the lyrics and the between songs patter.

What many may have forgotten (or were never aware of in the first place) is that the original Dougs were a really filthy band.

Ah yes, the lyrics. What many may have forgotten (or were never aware of in the first place) is that the original Dougs were a really filthy band. What was toned down for TV in the 90s (the Big Gig, DAAS Kapital, Good News Week et al) is ramped up to 11 in this show—to the obvious delight of the 700-strong audience at the Concourse Theatre.

Given licence by his obvious disablement and operating under a cocktail of prescribed drugs, Tim Ferguson in particular takes great delight in exploring the humour of the orifice, at times bringing to mind that other great crippled entertainer Ian Dury. McDermott repeatedly craves the audience’s indulgence for his confined comrade—then rolls his eyes and retires with Flacco to a couple of barstools at the rear of the stage when Ferguson interrupts the show to launch another random reverie. These take a multitude of forms—an overly explicit poem, a bawdy anecdote or sometimes simply a dadaesque thought bubble.

As ‘The Guitarist’, Flacco proves a competent replacement for Richard Fidler (these days presenter of Conversationsbroadcast on ABC Local Radio around Australia each weekday and re-broadcast on ABC RN), even unleashing a couple of impressive feedback-drenched guitar solos that rock the show off the rails (to the concocted dismay of ringmaster McDermott). And when McDermott trips down memory lane—‘Remember that interview in Edinburgh with the guy who was the kingmaker for the Fringe …’—Flacco just gazes back blankly until McDermott looks away and then looks down, frowns and gently shakes his head.

Amid all the merriment, there is a poignant interlude towards the end of the two and three quarter hour show. From his chair, Tim Ferguson invites the audience to reflect on the thought that in fifty years time few of them will still be alive and exhorts them not to waste time in their lives, because ‘the Play School clock is ticking—tick fucking tock.’

Amid all the merriment, there is a poignant interlude towards the end of the two and three quarter hour show.

That is a rare sombre moment though as the songs, patter and sight gags flow off the stage. The cumulative impact is such that at times, I am reduced to that state of helpless laughter where your funny bone is so over-stimulated that anything that is said or done perpetuates the hysterics.

Only the greatest comedians have that gift. In my experience, Billy Connolly, Barry Humphries, Rik Mayall, Los Trios Ringbarkus … and the Dougs. And the Dougs still have it.

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